Friday, 11 April 2014

Miracleman, Book 1: A Dream of Flying Review (Alan Moore, Garry Leach)

Miracleman is a legendary comic that’s been off bookshelves and in legal limbo for many, many years.

Miracleman’s complicated history goes back to the Golden Age when he was created as a British knockoff of the popular DC Comics Captain Marvel character (who today is called Shazam), an origin which would see the character dragged through the courts for decades. When arguably the most famous comics writer there’s ever been, Alan Moore, came to write Miracleman at the start of his career, he managed to rejuvenate him with a fresh, bold new vision before finishing his run and passing it on to a young writer who’d just started out – Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman would never finish his run and went on to popularise another forgotten series, Sandman (which he’d begun the year previous to Miracleman), while the Marvelman/Miracleman books would go out of print due to copyright claims (though recently Marvel and Gaiman announced that Gaiman would be finally completing his Miracleman story – expect it sometime in 2016!). The Miracleman books have been out of print for years and have been touted as one of the greatest superhero comics ever created, from those who were lucky enough to read it.

Things changed a couple of years ago when the numerous legal cases were settled and Marvel emerged as the sole owner of the Miracleman comics. Marvel head honcho, Joe Quesada, began to lay the groundwork for a reissuing of all of the comics by touching up the art – re-colouring, re-inking all of the pages –and, in January 2014, more than 30 years after it first launched in the pages of long-defunct British magazine Warrior, Alan Moore and Garry Leach’s Miracleman was back in print!

Besides the newly restored (and gorgeous!) artwork, Marvel agreed to Moore’s request to remove his name from the new editions – he would be credited only as The Original Writer. So now that the first book in the series has been released, does Miracleman, Book 1: A Dream of Flying live up to the hype – is it really as good as older comics readers claimed it to be? In a word, yes – and I say this as not much of an Alan Moore fan!

Taking its cue from a Silver Age comic where, in a devastating event, Miracleman is so hurt that his memory is wiped, Young Miracleman is killed and Kid Miracleman goes missing, the book opens decades later with a middle-aged Michael Moran having traumatic dreams of flying through space - he’s forgotten that he was once Miracleman. Moran is now a married freelance reporter who can’t conceive a child with his wife, but, one day, while covering a nuclear power protest, he sees the word “atomic” backwards, says it, and transforms into Miracleman: KIMOTA (which is actually atomik but whatever)!

The most striking thing when reading this 30+ year old comic is how fresh it reads. Check out other superhero comics from the early 80s and a great many haven’t aged well (Chris Claremont’s clunky X-Men comics are a good example). But Moore’s (I refuse to refer to him as the pretentious Original Writer) work has endured so well that it feels like it’s a contemporary comic. I’d even say it’s much better written than his recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books. It’s also amazing how he’s able to cram so much story into so few pages – the Miracleman “issues” were part of an anthology magazine so were limited to 6-8 pages and yet read like full length comics!

But it’s the ideas and the execution that make Miracleman stand out. Moore explores the fascinating duality of superheroes through Miracleman managing to impregnate his wife while his real self, Mike Moran, couldn’t, and what that means to Mike, while Kid Miracleman’s story is creepy beyond belief as his superhero self takes over his original identity and becomes an enormously powerful supervillain. Little details like Mike and his wife discovering the extent of Miracleman’s powers by purchasing comics and running through the list of other superheroes’ powers to see what he can and can’t do make this that much more of a brilliant read.

I wouldn’t say every aspect of Moore’s Miracleman works perfectly. There are some bizarre side characters from the future called the Warpsmiths who talk in this hideous-to-read Clockwork Orange facsimile style and whose stories were so abstract that I could not follow – or really care about - what was happening. And towards the end of the book, Moore begins to over-write so the pacing of the stories drops and drops until the pages are filled with characters’ standing about tiresomely soliloquising.

The art is another aspect of the book that’s amazing. The credits in this book are a murderer’s row of legendary comics artists: Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Paul Neary and Steve Dillon. Despite the varying artists, they try to maintain a consistent look to the comic though you can see bits and pieces here and there of the kind of art styles they would develop in later years. Dillon’s artwork though is unrecognisable from the kind he drew when he was a kid starting out on Miracleman to the artist he is today, working for Marvel.

Miracleman, Book 1: A Dream of Flying is definitely worth reading if you’re a superhero comics fan - it’s smart and full of great ideas, it’s entertaining and highly readable with stunning artwork and is easily one of the best Alan Moore books I’ve ever read. More importantly for those of us who’ve been wanting to read the book for years but didn’t want to pay hundreds on eBay for a copy, we now have affordable versions of the legendary classic available for the first time in decades – check it out for yourself and find out why it has the reputation it does!

Miracleman Book 1: A Dream of Flying

1 comment:

  1. Nitpicks: Neil Gaiman was actually well-established as writer of Sandman [starting in 1988] by the time he took over on Miracleman [late 1989/early 1990].

    Does that little kid Miracleman saves make an appearance later on? When is that? It's certainly not the baby in the lift when Mike Moran is shot.

    Just wait until Book Three. That's where it becomes the stuff of legend.